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It’s hard to be funny when you have a migraine. It’s hard to be, do, or say just about anything when you have a migraine.
Light hurts. Noise hurts. Moving hurts. Life in general hurts.
And then the nausea.
I started getting migraines about five years ago. The first one landed on me right in the middle of Holy Week, which is a time in the Church Year when I have multiple worship services each day from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday—about eleven in all. Each service requires a different sermon, and so I do a lot of writing. It’s a killer time for a pastor. A migraine multiplies the struggle.
The first migraine I ever experienced hit me on Maundy Thursday. And when I say it hit me, I mean hard. It started before the service, and by the time I got to the sermon, everything on the inside of the left side of my head felt like it was being scrambled and prepared as an omelet. My sinus cavity was throbbing, from head to toe my skin was extremely sensitive to the touch, and I was ready to puke. And I eventually did.
Not in the middle of the service, of course. But it was close. Thankfully the former pastor of my congregation—now retired—was there in the pews. He robed up and finished the service. I went to my office to empty the contents of my stomach, and then Jennifer took me to the Emergency Room.
I spent the next eight horrible days in the hospital with a gathering of specialists hovering above me attempting to sort out the mess. They drew blood, performed tests, ordered up CT scans, X-rays, and MRIs. Eventually they discovered the problem.
“You have a severe migraine,” the chief of neurology said that final day. “At first we were concerned that your brain had shifted by three millimeters, which would have suggested a particular disea—”
“—You thought I had a disease that shifts my brain?” I interrupted.
“Yeah,” he said. “But you don’t. Good thing, huh?”
“Yes. Good thing.”
“Essentially, it’s a severe migraine you’re dealing with,” he continued.
“Yeah, it’s probably seasonal, coming on because of changes in the weather—maybe barometric drops and such. You’ll probably get them every year from now on. This was the first.”
“So, what do I do?”
“Well,” a negligible doctor beside the chief doctor began, “if it isn’t necessarily the weather, then you’ll need to discover and watch for the triggers.”
“Usually migraines are triggered by something—stress, chocolate, something. Your wife said you’re under a lot of stress. That could be part of the problem. You need to figure out how to get rid of the stressors.”
“I’m a pastor,” I said, my eyes locked shut from the pain. “My stressors are people. You’re counseling me to commit murder.”
They laughed among themselves.
“We’ve ordered up something called Dihydroergotamine—DHE for short,” the chief said. “It’s one of the most powerful medications out there for slowing these things down and getting a handle on them.”
“Got it,” I replied, dryly. “DHE. How about we get it into me and get me the hell out of here?”
The next few hours were spent feeding the DHE into my body. Within a half hour of the first dose, the migraine began to subside and I was feeling better. In fact, for the first time in over a week, I was finally able to open my eyes to look around the room.
“How’re you feeling?” the nurse charged with my care asked from the doorway.
“A lot better,” I replied. “The headache is still there, but it seems to be dissipating.”
“That means it’s working.”
“Can I ask you a question?” I pried as she moved among the various devices that shackled my body’s diagnostics to the nurses’ station in the hallway. “When this whole thing started, it felt like it began on the left side of my nasal cavity. Could there be something going on in there?”
“It sounds like the doctors checked everything,” she said. “If something was out of sorts in there, they’d have found it.”
“Well,” I said, looking to the window timidly, “what if I did this to myself?”
“What do you mean?”
“Yes,” she answered. “It’s a little teapot-like thing that you fill with warm salt water. You tip yourself upside down and you pour the water into your sinuses to clean them out. A lot of people swear by them.”
“Yeah, well, I’d never used one until about three weeks ago,” I said, continuing the diffidence.
“Well,” I started, “I felt what I thought was a head cold coming on, and since Holy Week was approaching, I got sort of nervous. I didn’t want to be out of commission during the busiest time of the year with a sinus issue. My parish administrator suggested I try a neti pot, and so I did.”
“And instead of using warm salt water, I figured I’d go full guns and destroy the bugger.”
“What did you use instead of salt water?”
A few seconds of uncomfortable silence passed between us.
“You… poured Scotch… into your sinuses?” she asked, a look of disbelief now adorning her kindly face.
“Yes,” I replied. “But don’t worry. It wasn’t good Scotch. It was Scoresby, which is really bad Scotch.”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Didn’t… didn’t that hurt?”
“It was a little warm,” I said. “But trust me, I’m a guy who can handle whisky no matter how or where it gets into my body.”
“That didn’t sound right, did it?”
“Not at all.”
“So, anyway,” I said, attempting to shift conversational gears. “Did I permanently damage my sinuses with Scoresby?”
She drew another breath betraying a tenacious surprise as well as her attempt to get her bearings in the discussion. “While that’s probably not something you should be using,” she said, “I’m sure it has nothing to do with your current situation.”
“Are you sure?” I pressed. “Maybe I should’ve used a good single malt instead of a crappy blend—maybe something from The Macallan, or maybe The Balvenie?”
“If I were you,” she said, maintaining a straighter face, “I’d just use the warmed salt water… like you’re supposed to. Don’t put whisky into your sinuses.”
“Gotcha,” I said. “No more whisky up my nose.”
As I said, several years have passed since that conversation, and now instead of cleansing my sinuses with Scotch, I shoot up with DHE every few days during migraine season. It seems to keep the demons at bay. More importantly, I haven’t had to murder anyone in my congregation.
Also, I suppose there’s a greater success to attribute to the DHE. In the midst of a cranial storm, my thirst for whisky goes away. The DHE helps it to return. I’m glad for this, because it means that the sample of the J.P. Wiser’s Commemorative Series Canada 2018 edition sent to me by my friend George could be thoroughly enjoyed here in the aftermath of the most recent bout.
And indeed, it was enjoyed.
A nose of tangerines, spiced marmalade, and rye, the whisky’s scent speaks to the bright beaming sunshine of an uneventful summer day, one well beyond the reaches of the relentlessly unstable migraine purgatory that is springtime.
The palate is a tongue gloss of treacly caramel and the darkest of red cherries, both sensations warmed and then served together on nearly burnt rye toast. The juice from the cherries seeps into the toast to soften it. The caramel holds the whole snack together.
The finish is shorter than expected, although not thin or unenjoyable. The corn finally comes out to embrace the sweeter rudiments mentioned in both the nose and palate.
Overall, this is a well-balanced bit of joyful relief to a recent migraine—relief that was had with neither murder nor neti pots. And yet, since the nurse assured me that putting whisky up my nose wouldn’t kill me (even though I gave her my word that I wouldn’t), this particular dram is far better than Scoresby, and with that, I’d certainly consider using it the next time a head cold chooses my already sensitive sinuses for a dwelling place.
The only problem is figuring out how to swallow it through my nose while upside down. But then again, it’s me we’re talking about. If anyone can do it, well, you know I probably can.